Saturday night’s loss to the Stars was a tough one to swallow for the Panthers and their fans, and Thursday night’s game saw a similar effort with the opposite result. Fortunately, things have been pretty positive through the first five games for the Panthers, but there’s no doubt they’ll want to start looking for ways to put together complete efforts in order to string wins together.
The Panthers started off Saturday night’s game a little on the slow side as the Stars controlled the possession game and were cycling the puck in the offensive zone for minutes at a time. The Panthers wouldn’t even things up effort-wise until the first period was almost over, and they finally broke through 59 seconds into the second period when Jonathan Huberdeau fed a backdoor pass to Aleksander Barkov who put the puck into what was essentially an empty net. They improved their transition game from the first period to second and that was epitomized by their 2nd goal which saw Alex Petrovic get the puck quickly up ice and Brandon Pirri would eventually score on a breakaway. That would be all she wrote for the home team, however, as the Stars would begin to take over and score 4 straight goals (including an empty-better) as a result of a turnover, penalties, and poor coverage in the defensive zone.
“We had the game in our hands,” said Aleksander Barkov. “[Luongo] kept us in the game all game, he gave us a chance to win, but we didn’t defend well.”
“We let them back in it,” said head coach Gerard Gallant following the 4-2 loss. “We turned some pucks over, let them back in the game.”
Saturday’s loss was very similar to Thursday’s win against the Sabres when it comes to the effort after the Panthers took the lead. Jaromir Jagr scored 2 first period goals for the Panthers, but the Sabres would out-score them 2-1 in the final 40 minutes. And like yesterday when the Panthers were called for 3 penalties in the middle 20, they were called for 5 penalties after taking a two-goal lead against the Sabres.
“We took too many penalties tonight and gave them a chance to stay in the game. […] We gotta be more disciplined,” said Gallant after Thursday night’s win.
The compete level was down, too. The Sabres were controlling the play when it came to puck possession and keeping things alive in the offensive zone, and the Panthers got lucky that the Sabres didn’t inflict the same damage that the Stars would the next game.
We have to learn how to win those ugly games,” Jaromir Jagr said. “I don’t think we played our game, […] but we have to learn from that, we have to be better next game for sure.” Aleksander Barkov also admitted that the Panthers didn’t play well against the Sabres despite getting the win.
The Panthers are at their best when they’re cycling the puck down low in the offensive zone, controlling possession (especially the top line), and when they’re putting pucks on net They’re not on their game when they’re turning the puck over at the blue-lines and fighting to keep possession or sustain pressure.
“You wanna keep putting teams away and keep them quiet,” said Brian Campbell.
It’s important that the Panthers finish what they start, put teams away when they have the lead, and focus on the game plan to not get ahead of themselves. Stringing as many wins together as possible early on in the season is important because a sub-par start is what gave the Panthers issues when crunch time came at the end of last season. Finishing off teams when you have the lead is the best way to do just that. All things considered, the Panthers are by no means in bad shape and 3 wins in 5 games is certainly not bad at all; it’s a 98-point pace over the course of an entire season. However, with it being so early in the season, now would be the time to correct things rather than halfway through.
Gallant’s post-game presser on Saturday night ended with him giving his thought’s on Brandon Pirri’s first goal of the season: “Nice to see Pirri score…but you gotta do more than score…all of us.”